Quick Review – Grindhouse (dir. by Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino)


The following was posted on 4/6/2007 from my LiveJournal on Grindhouse (which is celebrating it’s 15th Anniversary). I’ll admit I respect Death Proof a bit more now than I did back then:

Gotta write fast. Have to jump into shower and head for work.

I got into the movie theatre at about 8pm, and spent the hour talking with a pair of film students from the School of Visual Arts. At 9 (an hour before the movie), the rest of the sold out crowd appeared. I was officially 3rd in line. Sweet. ūüôā I didn’t my preferred seat (the single one on the right reserved for patrons coming in with someone in a wheelchair), but did get a seat in the empty row (meaning I could stretch my legs, even better).

The short of it: Grindhouse is paying one low price for 2 bad movies, on purpose. You get 3 great built in trailers, and two mini movies. Between the two mini movies, I loved “Planet Terror” (the Rodriguez one) more than “Death Proof” (The Tarantino film), simply because Death Proof had too much of Tarantino’s conversational style that all of his films have. It’s like you’re listening to a conversation that absolutely doesn’t tie itself to any of the storyline’s major points. It’s just “cool” stuff, but I literally almost fell asleep until Kurt Russell showed up on screen. I think that if one knows to expect this from Tarantino, it comes across better. It’s like watching both Kill Bill volumes back to back. The first one’s cool and action packed, and the second one has some action (the chase scene alone in Death Proof had me wondering how they did that), but is so slow before getting there, you want to sigh.

Being a Charmed Fan, it was great to see Rose McGowan again, and there were so many cameos to laugh at. Fergie has a cameo, and Michael Biehn’s (“Hicks” from Aliens, Navy Seals) even in this. Where did they dig up these guys?

Grindhouse is easily a party film. I’d go see it again in the theatre, but I don’t see myself getting the DVD. It takes you back about a good 30 years, and does that really well. There are missing reels, serious jump cuts in the film and the sound sometimes cuts out. ūüôā In that sense, it’s really beautiful. The audience laughed and applauded, though there were some that at the end were like “Man, that sucked.” In the 60’s and 70’s, Grindhouse movies were pretty bad. I guess it’s like watching one of those old Hammer films, mixed in with a cheap horror flick. You have to walk into this movie not expecting “The Departed” for it to work. Just have fun with what you’re seeing and remember, this is what your parents sometimes saw in the movies (it should be noted that my parents went to something of a Grindhouse once – the movie they went to see was Night of the Living Dead. The other movie that was in the show was John Carpenter’s “Halloween”, which freaked my Dad out).

The music in particular is really great. Robert Rodriguez, Chingon, and a few friends come up with a sound for Planet Terror that’s in essence a John Carpenter like sound. If you have access to the Itunes Music Store, give it a listen (I bought it). Plus, if you’re a fan of some of the older movies out there, you’ll find references to some of Carpenter’s films in there (for example, one of the songs from “Escape from New York” is actually used in the film). The same occurs with the soundtrack from “Creepshow” – The story with the drowned couple. There are also tons of older Tarantino/Rodriguez references in there. One fellow actually yelled out a line, word for word, from what was on screen. It took me a second to realize the line came from “From Dusk Till Dawn”. Sweet.

The in betwen trailers are absolutely fantastic. If I were to get the DVD, it would probably be for this reason alone. You can tell that Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) and Eli Roth (Hostel) really had fun with their pieces.

So, Grindhouse is worth seeing in theatre at least once with a bunch of friends, but know what you’re walking into. The movie can get gross at times and no young kid should even be brought near to this (we got carded to actually get into the theatre, and a Weinstein Rep. was on hand after the film to let us take surveys). Also before the movies, one of the teaser trailers is for Rob Zombie’s “Halloween”. I haven’t been so excited for a horror film like this since Zack Snyder’s version of “Dawn of the Dead”. This looks really good, and I’m wondering what Michael Myers is going to look like when someone like Tyler Mane (Sabretooth from the first X-Men movie) is playing him. That’s going to be creepy.

The Things You Find On Netflix: Paradox (dir by Michael Hurst)


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Poor Zoe Bell!

Zoe Bell is a kickass stuntwoman and a better than average actress. ¬†Ever since she appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, she’s had a strong cult following and there are people who will definitely watch any film in which she appears. ¬†I like her because she always plays strong, independent women who can kick ass better than any man.

But — with the exception of Death Proof and Raze — it’s hard not to feel that her unique talents have been largely wasted in many of the movies in which she has appeared. ¬†I have to admit that I even groaned a little when she showed up in The Hateful Eight, largely because I knew it would just be another pointless cameo where she would only be allowed a few minutes to talk about being from New Zealand before being killed in some dramatic fashion.

(Seriously, Quentin — we all know you love Zoe Bell so why not write her another worthwhile role, instead of just using her as your latest directorial trademark? ¬†Write her a role and a film worthy of her!)

The latest film to waste Zoe Bell is Paradox, a sci-fi slasher film that you can currently find on Netflix.

Paradox is a time travel movie and I’m a little bit hesitant to talk too much about the plot because the plot sounds a lot more interesting than it actually is. ¬†Gale (Zoe) and Jim (Adam Huss) are part of a team of scientists and engineers who have built a time machine in an underground bunker. ¬†The mysterious Mr. Landau (Malik Yorba) has shown up to be given a demonstration of how the machine works. ¬†(Meanwhile, the NSA is sitting outside the bunker, hoping to figure out what’s going on. ¬†It turns out that they have a mole working on the inside and blah blah blah…)

Now, you would think that a time machine would be a pretty cool thing to have but it turns out that the machine has a few flaws. ¬†First off, there’s the fact that the mere existence of the machine forces people to engage in ponderous dialogue about paradoxes, time loops, and whether or not the future is set in stone. ¬†Secondly, the machine also gives anyone who uses it minor brain damage. ¬†Third, after Jim uses the machine to jump forward an hour, he returns and announces that, in the future, everyone in the underground bunker has been murdered!

That’s right — there’s a killer among the scientists! ¬†Who could it be!? ¬†And could that killer possibly be working for the mysterious Stephen Devlin, a man who apparently used the time machine to become a billionaire in the future and who now has to make sure that the scientists in his past don’t destroy the machine in the present? ¬†(My head hurts after typing that.)

It’s full of twists and turns and secrets. ¬†But it really doesn’t matter because the execution is never as good as the premise. ¬†Paradox is one of those films that should be great but instead, it ends up collapsing under the weight of a low budget, a bad script, terrible performances, and indifferent direction. ¬†Zoe Bell is pretty much wasted, though she at least gets to do more here than she did in The Hateful Eight.

Paradox was given a brief and very limited theatrical run before coming over to Netflix.  In fact, if not for the fact that watching Hardcore Henry actually left me feeling physically ill, I would be tempted to declare Paradox to be the worst film of the year so far.

As I said, Paradox is on Netflix right now. ¬†It’s one to avoid.

Playing Catch-Up: The Hateful Eight (dir by Quentin Tarantino)


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Remember how I said that it was intimidating to admit that The Big Short didn’t do much for me as a viewer? ¬†Well, it’s even more intimidating for me to admit that I felt much the same way about The Hateful Eight as well.

Nearly everyone I know loves The Hateful Eight and, going into it, I really wanted to love it as well. ¬†After all, this is — as the opening credits remind us — Quentin Tarantino’s 8th film! ¬†Tarantino is one of my favorite directors. ¬†I thought his last film, Django Unchained, was a masterpiece and one of the most important films ever made about slavery. ¬†Like many of you, I’ve followed all the details of the making of The Hateful Eight, from the initial script leak to the controversy over Tarantino’s comments on the police. ¬†I was excited because the cast looked great and was full of veteran actors — like Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Bruce Dern — who all seemed likely to benefit from the Tarantino touch. ¬†(Say what you will about Quentin Tarantino, it cannot be denied that he’s given good roles to talented actors who are rarely given the opportunities that they deserve.) ¬†When I heard that Ennio Morricone was going to be providing the score, I got even more excited. ¬†Morricone and Tarantino; it seemed like the perfect combination for greatness.

Well, Morricone’s score is spectacular. ¬†There’s talk that Morricone might finally win an Oscar for his work on The Hateful Eight and I certainly don’t have a problem with that. ¬†(Hopefully, Morricone will have learned a lesson from the Golden Globes and, if he is nominated, he will either come to the ceremony himself or arrange for someone other than Tarantino to accept for him.) ¬†And Jennifer Jason Leigh takes full advantage of her role, giving a truly ferocious performance.

But otherwise, The Hateful Eight just didn’t do much for me. ¬†It’s not that I disliked the film. ¬†There was a lot that worked but, for whatever reason, The Hateful Eight never enthralled me the way that past Tarantino films have. ¬†The Hateful Eight left me saying, “Is that it?”

A lot of my reaction to The Hateful Eight has to do with the film’s length. ¬†Taking place, for the most part, in only one location and structured more like a play than a film, The Hateful Eight¬†would be a great 90 minute murder mystery. ¬†Instead, it lasts nearly 3 hours and, at times, the film drags interminably. ¬†As usual, Tarantino plays with time and, at one point, stops the action so that we can see what happened earlier in the day. ¬†Unfortunately, as opposed to other Tarantino films, we don’t really learn anything new from this flashback and you get the feeling that it was included most because flaskbacks are a¬†Tarantino trademark and because he wanted to find a way to work a somewhat pointless Zoe Bell cameo into the film.

As for Tarantino’s widely acclaimed script, I have to admit that I got kind of bored with this talky film. ¬†Yes, the actors were all good and it’s always fun to listen to Samuel L. Jackson be a badass but the dialogue itself was largely repetitive and occasionally, the film itself threatened to turn into Tarantino-on-autopilot.

(Interestingly enough, Tarantino’s script features several creative¬†euphemisms for oral sex and the characters come up with a handful of different ways to point out that Jackson is black but, when it comes to Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character, nobody can come up with anything more imaginative than repeatedly calling her a bitch. ¬†While, unlike some critics, I don’t think The Hateful Eight is a misogynistic movie, I do have to admit that I was rolling my eyes around the fifth time that Leigh’s character was called a bitch and kept rolling them for the entire movie. ¬†For a writer well-known for his ability to come up with colorful and memorable insults, Tarantino’s refusal to come up with anything more imaginative than “bitch” just felt lazy.)

What can I say? ¬†The Hateful Eight just didn’t do much for me. ¬†However, I do think that the film looked great and I certainly hope that Morricone and Leigh are at least nominated for their excellent work. ¬†I look forward to Tarantino’s next film but I doubt I’ll be revisiting The Hateful Eight any time soon.

(By the way, with this review, I am now officially caught up on reviewing the films of 2015!)

A Tease of Tarantino’s Eighth…The Hateful Eight.


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The Hateful Eight was never to be seen due to the unfortunate leak of the early draft of Tarantino’s screenplay for the film. It wasn’t meant to be seen outside of those he had trusted to become part of the film. Yet, the script still managed to leak and fanboys worldwide rushed to download and take a gander at what Tarantino had planned for his eight film.

After weeks and a couple months of cooling down from the betrayal of having his work leaked before it was time, Tarantino finally backed off from his promise that The Hateful Eight will never be filmed. With sighs of relief, fans, admirers and critics were glad to see Tarantino change his mind and put the script into production.

Months have gone by since that decision and the start of principal photography. Mini teasers were released and publicity shots were disseminated to the public, but a proper teaser trailer still hadn’t been released.

Now, the waiting has ended as The Weinstein Company has released the first official teaser trailer for Quentin Tarantino’s eight film, The Hateful Eight.

The Hateful Eight will be seen in limited release this Christmas 2015 and everywhere else on January 8, 2016.

Film Review: Raze (dir by Josh C. Waller)


I have always had trouble working in a group with other women.

I wish that wasn’t true because it really is such a clich√©, this idea that a group of women can’t get along¬†for¬†more than a few¬†days¬†or that we’re all always in some sort of passive aggressive competition with each other.¬† And I still don’t think that’s true for all women but it’s certainly been true for me.¬† For¬†whatever reason, I seem to bring out the cattiness¬†in certain people and, being the Irish lass that I am, it’s next to impossible for me to truly¬†let anything go.¬† I remember every smirk, every eye roll, and every piece of innuendo that I’ve ever suspected was whispered behind my back.¬† It probably doesn’t help that I tend to be¬†ultra-competitive about — well, about everything.¬†¬†That’s why I’m sometimes¬†jealous of the way that men can apparently compete each other without taking any of it personally or¬†even that seriously.¬† Men can compete and remain friends with no hard feelings and I have to admit that I’ve never quite understood how they manage to do that.¬† Again, I wish that wasn’t true because it really does play into the stereotypes and clich√©s that men have used to keep us “in our place” for centuries.

I found myself thinking a lot about my competitive nature as I watched Raze, the debut film of director Josh C. Waller.

In Raze,¬†a centuries-old secret society has kidnapped 50 women and imprisoned them in an underground prison.¬† As the leaders of the organization — the cadaverous¬†Joseph (Doug Jones) and the deceptively maternal Elizabeth (Sherilyn Fenn) — explain, the women will spend the next two weeks fighting each other.¬† Each fight will be to the death until only one is left alive.¬† If the women refuse to fight, their loves ones will be murdered.¬† If one of the women loses her fight, her loves ones will be murdered.¬† The only way for the women to save their loves ones is to be the lone survivor.

Since the movie opens with the tournament in progress, we only get to meet a handful of the women who are literally fighting for their lives.¬† Jamie (Rachel Nichols) was kidnapped from¬†a bar after she made the mistake of telling a handsome stranger that she wanted to be a kickboxer.¬† Teresa (Tracie¬†Thomas) is fighting to save her husband’s life.¬† Cody (Bailey Anne Borders) spends all of her time in her cell crying but still turns out to be a surprisingly efficient¬†killer.¬† Pheobe (Rachel Marshall) is a sociopath who, alone of all the women, is actually enjoying the tournament.¬† And then there’s Sabrina (Zoe Bell), a former soldier and POW who is fighting to protect the daughter that she’s never met.

Probably the first thing that I should tell you about Raze is that it’s a violent film.¬† It’s not just that there’s a lot of fights in the film.¬† It’s the fact that those fights are so well-choreographed and the film’s cast so throws themselves into both their characters and the action on-screen that the violence feels real in a way that most film violence does not.¬† I don’t think I’ve ever winced as much and as often as I did while watching the fights in Raze because I found myself feeling each blow and each kick.¬† There are a lot of fights in Raze¬†but they never feel repetitive because the viewers has an emotional stake in each and every one of them.

Thematically, Raze makes an attempt to turn the tournament into a metaphor for the battles that women have to fight every single day.¬† Elizabeth and Joseph both assure the women that the tournament’s champion will come out of the ordeal as a stronger and more independent woman.¬† It’s an idea that the film doesn’t explore as thoroughly as I would have liked but it’s still an interesting concept that made Raze¬†a bit more thought-provoking than the usual genre piece.

Personally, I like films where women get to kick ass.¬† That’s why I’ve been always been willing to watch the Underworld and Resident Evil films, despite the fact that most of them kinda sorta suck.¬† That said, I prefer films where women get to beat up men and zombies to films where women beat each other to death.¬† On the surface, Raze¬†has a lot in common the “women in prison” films that Roger Corman¬†produced back in the 70s.¬† The main difference is that, in the Corman films, characters like Sabrina and Cody would never have consented to killing another woman.¬† Instead, they would have teamed up with Pam Grier and taken down the Man.

Raze is a lot better than you might expect but it still definitely could have used Pam Grier.

Review: Oblivion (dir. by Joseph Kosinski)


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Good science-fiction films tend to be far and few between. Most of the time the ideas and ambition to make a good or great science-fiction film are right there on paper, but loses much once people actually have to create it for others to see. This puts the latest sci-fi film from Tron: Legacy filmmaker Joseph Kosinski in a weird position. His follow-up to the underwhelming sequel to the classic sci-fi film Tron is called Oblivion and it manages to be thought-provoking and entertaining, yet also have a sense of a been there and done that to the whole proceeding.

Oblivion quickly gets the introductions to the film’s backstory out of the way. Earth was attacked 60 years ago by aliens who were called “Scavengers” (Scavs for short) who destroyed the moon thus causing massive tectonic upheaval and gigantic tsunamis to ravage the planet. Humanity in its desperation would fight back with the only weapons it had left once the aliens began landing troops and that would be the nuclear kind. The planet is now devastated with the surviving population leaving Earth for a new colony on Saturn’s moon of Titan and in a massive tetrahedron space station orbiting Earth simply called “The Tet”.

It’s the story of the technician pair left behind to provide support for the array of armed drones who patrol Earth for any remaining Scavs and protect the reclamation factories that has been removing the remaining resources that the planet has to be used as an energy source for the Titan colony. This pair of technician are Jack (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) who live in a towering base above the clouds. Jack does the dirty work by flying patrols in the area that encompasses what used to be the East Coast of the United States while Victoria (who also happens to be Jack’s lover) provides comm and technical support back at their base.

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Victoria can’t wait to finish their five-year stint on Earth and with two weeks left before they can rejoin the rest of humanity on Titan her dream is coming closer. Yet, Jack doesn’t seem to want to leave Earth behind. He has begun to dream about Earth before the war that he should have no memory of. First they’re dreams while he’s asleep but as the film shows it soon begins to invade and distract his waking hours as well.

It’s during one such mission where he comes across the a sudden arrival of a human spacecraft with surviving humans aboard that his dreams become reality. A woman he has dreamed off that he’s never met is one of the survivors (played by Olga Kurylenko) and she becomes the key to unlocking the secret that’s been kept from him about the true nature of the war that devastated Earth sixty years past and why he continues to have flashes of memories that he should never have had.

Oblivion sounds like it’s original at first glance, but as the story moves along we begin to see influences (at times outright plot point lifts) from past innovative sci-fi films such as Moon and The Matrix. While Kosinski (who co-wrote the film as well as directed it) does put his own spin on these ideas it’s not enough to fully distinguish the film from past sci-fi films which did them better. Oblivion is not bad by any means, but it fails to stretch beyond it’s influences that would’ve made it a great film instead of just being a good one. It doesn’t help that the script lags behind Kosinski’s talent for creating some beautiful images and vistas. The world-building he does with art director Kevin Ishioka manages to make a devastated Earth look serenely beautiful which when paired with cinematographer Claudio Miranda’s panoramic sweeps of the Icelandic location shoot make Oblivion one of the best looking film of 2013.

Yet, the script tries too hard to explore some heavy themes such as the nature of memory and identity. The film doesn’t explore them enough to make this film come off as something heavy sci-fi like Solaris. It just teases the audience enough to start a spark that could lead to conversations afterwards. The action that does punctuate the more introspective sections of the film does come off quite well despite coming only few at a time and not for any extended length.

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What seems to hold the film together outside of it’s visuals would be the performance of the cast which sees Tom Cruise doing a very workman-like performance as Jack. We’ve seen him do this sort of performance time and time again that it seems to be second-nature to him by now and something audiences come to expect now. Even Morgan Freeman as an aged resistance fighter lends a bit of serious gravitas to the film whenever he’s on-screen. But it’s the performances of the two female leads that sells the film despite it’s flaws. Olga Kurylenko has less to work with in the role of Jack’s mystery woman Julia. What she does get she does so with a level of empathy that instantly sells the notion that Jack and her were destined to be together despite the vast gulf of time and space.

The stand-out performance comes from Andrea Riseborough as Jack’s lover and partner Victoria. Where Jack comes off as restrained chaotic glee who marvels at the sight he sees every day he’s out on patrol the opposite is Victoria. Her organized and reserved demeanor comes off as sexy in a cold and calculated way, yet just behind that British reserve we see glimpses of her hanging on by a thread at the chaos she sees in Jack. Andrea Riseborough plays Victoria so well that every scene she’s in she steals it from Cruise. Her performance was all about slight changes to her body movement, a quick glance that speaks volumes of what she’s thinking. While this film may not make Riseborough an outright star it will get her noticed by other filmmakers soon enough.

With the summer blockbuster season of 2013 coming closer like a freight train with the approach of Iron Man 3 it’s a good thing that Oblivion was released weeks before this hectic season. For despite it’s flaws in it’s script and the lack of originality in it’s premise the film does succeed in being entertaining and thought-provoking enough that people should see it on the big-screen. Plus, nothing but the massive screen (especially IMAX) does full justice to some of the vistas shot of Iceland that doubles as devastated Earth. So, while Oblivion may not be the slam-dunk hit for Kosinki after failing with Tron: Legacy it is still a film worth checking out.

Trailer: Oblivion (Official)


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Every year always has a couple of big genre films that seem to continually fly under the radar. This is surprising since people tend to think that films with huge budgets and a cast headlined by one of the biggest names in Hollywood tend to be overhyped before they even reached the big-screen. While I’ve heard of the upcoming scifi and post-apocalyptic film Oblivion for almost two years now it’s still a film that doesn’t generate much talk.

We know several things about Oblivion that came out before the release of the film’s first trailer: 1. it stars Tom Cruise and 2. it’s the follow-up film for Tron: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski. The second part may be one thing that has kept this film from being one of the biggest anticipated films of 2013. Kosinski’s underwhelming sequel to Tron didn’t make many genre fans excited as to what he might come up with next.

The trailer looks to erase some of those doubts as we get to see Oblivion as a very beautifully-shot film. We get see some great looking art direction for the film if the trailer show’s us anything about Oblivion. Plus, it has Morgan Freeman all decked out like one of David Lynch’s Fremen from Dune.

Oblivion is set for an April 12, 2013 release date.

Source: Apple

Review: Gamer (dir. by Neveldine/Taylor)


No one will ever mistake the writer-director duo of Neveldine/Taylor (Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor) as the next Coen Brothers, but they definitely have made their mark in creating entertaining films which some have called exploitative, pandering to the lowest common denominator and exercises in excess. Maybe these critics are right, but they also seem to view the films by these two filmmakers through the narrow-minded lens of their elistist and so-called cineaste sensibilities. They won’t be the next Coen Brothers but they’re way ahead of other so-called filmmaker duos such as The Spierig Brothers (Undead and the pretentious and awful Daybreakers) or The Strause Brothers (AvP: Requiem and the awful Skyline). They came onto the scene with their cult classic action thrillers Crank and it’s sequel, Crank: High Voltage.

Their third film took the gaming influences so inherent in their first two films (which for all intents and purpose were video games that happened to be film) and went the next step. Gamer is all about a near-future world where two games with on-line social media foundations have become the rage of the entertainment world. One is a game called “Society” that looks to be the nightmare evolution of privacy advocates everywhere to the on-line virtual world Second Life and The Sims. It is the other game in this film which makes up the foundation of the film’s plot. “Slayers” takes the ultra-popular multiplayer on-line experiences of games such as Call of Duty and HALO to the next level by allowing gamers to actually control real people (inmates sentenced to death) to act as their avatars in a real-life battlefield arena with real weapons and real deaths.

These games which have become the obsession of hundreds of millions of people worldwide are the brainchild of the film’s antagonist. Michael C. Hall plays the creator of these games and his performance looks to combine the sociopathic charm of his Dexter character with that of Steve Jobs is the latter was openly honest about his douchebag tendencies. Playing his opposite is the character of Kable who happens to be the reigning champion of the game Slayers and who knows a secret that could tear down the billion-dollar empire created by Castle. Gerard Butler plays the desperate but very capable inmate Kable who just wants to survive past the final match and earn his freedom thus return to his wife and¬†young daughter on the outside.

Gamer posits the question of how far are we willing to go to experience realism in our games and entertainment. With the game Society people pay to be able to control other people in a social setting (albeit in a controlled area). These so-called avatars will do anything and everything their real-life controllers tell them to do. In the film these avatars get paid to become virtual slaves and with most people signing up for the job being the socially desperate. Their situation is not so dissimilar from the condemned inmates who populate the game Slayers. The film hits the audience with a sledgehammer that these virtual entertainments have become popular worldwide because people have stopped looking at these “volunteers” as real people. Morality has been replaced by the need for instant gratification by way of these virtual on-line systems.

The film doesn’t make any apologies for¬†the heavyhanded delivery of it’s message and also doesn’t skimp on the entertainment side of the equation. Neveldine/Taylor have shown that they have a certain flair for creating visual chaos and action on the screen. Their unique visual style does look like something out of a video game especially those from hyperrealistic shooters such as Call of Duty and its ilk. The filmmakers have always accomplished the high-quality visual look of their films despite the low to modest budget given to them by the studios they’re working for. Gamer is no exception and the film benefits from the decision by these two filmmakers to continue working with the Red One digital cameras thus allowing them to add in the visual effects right into the shot scenes the very same day of shooting.

It’s this very style of hi-tech guerrilla filmmaking which¬†makes Neveldine/Taylor this current era’s Cormans. Unlike most low-budget filmmakers they don’t use the size of their budget to dictate how their films turn out visually, aurally and narratively. The first two this film succeeds in ways that makes an audience think the film was higher budgeted than it really was. The third would depend on the viewer whether the film succeeds or not. For those who seem intent on viewing every film as if they were made to be worthy of high awards and accolades would probably dismiss and hate this piece of exploitation cinema. Gamer succeeds in a narrative sense because it delivers on the promise of telling a story about a world where free will has been seconded to control in the need of a population in search of a the next virtual playground. It’s a heady premise that has been explored in past films such as the Matrix Trilogy and another film similar to this one which came out weeks later in Surrogates.

Gamer doesn’t have the philosophical and existential sermoning in combination with futuristic action sequences as the Wachowski Brothers’ trilogy, but it does have the same visceral action DNa as those three films and also more entertaining than the Bruce Willis vehicle Surrogates. This film will appeal to the very people who it condemns as sheep to the rising tide of on-line control in entertainment, but then that’s what all exploitation films tend to do best. Cater to the very people it uses as examples of what’s wrong in society and build an entertaining film around them and what they represent.

The film’s cast revolves around Gerard Butler and Michael C. Hall and the roles they play. Whether its Amber Valletta playing Kable’s desperate wife who has sold herself to become a controllable avatar in Society to try and earn enough to get her young daughter back or to Logan Lerman playing the role of Simon the gamer who controls Kable during the Slayer matches. They all do enough with their roles to keep their characters from becoming less than one-notes. Again, for some having a film with characters that are quite basic and one-note might make for a bad film, but when put into context of the story being told they’re quite good and needed to become motivators for Butler’s character.

In the end, Neveldine/Taylor have made a modern day exploitation and grindhouse film in Gamer without having to resort to the visual tricks used in the Rodriguez/Tarantino grindhouse homage film Grindhouse. A film doesn’t need to have film scratches, overexposed film stock, scratchy audio track or missing film reels to be grindhouse. It just have to espouse the very nature of the films which made up the kind of films which became prime example of grindhouse/exploitation cinema. Gamer won’t win any awards, but I suspect that more people who saw it were entertained by it’s blatant, in-your-face entertainment than would normally admit to it. It’s a film that has cult status and guilty pleasure written all over it.

Plus, this film is definitely worth at least a curiosity viewing if just to see the musical number performed by¬†Michael C. Hall at the climactic sequence near the end of the film. I don’t think any film has ever combined gratuitous violence, musical dance numbers using bloodied death row inmates and Michael C. Hall singing Frank Sinatra’s¬†“Ive Got You Under My Skin“. That sequence alone is worth a rental or Netflix Instant streaming.

Review: Grindhouse (dir. by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino)


Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino have always professed to anyone within hearing distance their extreme and fanboyish love for the grindhouse days of filmmaking. Both directors’ resume of work look like a modern grindhouse films but with better writing, effects and directing. Anyone who grew up watching grindhouse film’s of the 70’s and 80’s can see it’s heavy influence on films such as From Dusk Til Dawn, Desperado, Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill. With 2007’s Grindhouse, both Rodriguez and Tarantino take their fanboy love for all things grindhouse and exploitation to a whole new level with personal take on the cheap John Carpenter-knock offs, zombie gorefests, slasher film and revenge-driven flicks that made being a young kid during the 70’s and 80’s quite enjoyable.

For those who do not know what grindhouse films are they’re the ultra-cheap and, most of the time, very bad, shlocky horror, revenge, softcore porn, badly-dubbed kung fu flicks and a myriad of other B- to Z-grade movies. These movies were shown in dingy, decrepit (usually former burlesque stagehouses) movie houses which showed double to triple-bills of titles for a low, cheap price all day long (where the popcorn and concession snacks were as stale as week-old coffee). These places and their films were book-ended by the cheap drive-in theaters which grew out of the suburban sprawl boom era of the 60’s and 70’s. One could not avoid the fact that the projector equipment were in bad shape and in desperate need of maintenance while the films played out. Then there’s the film reels themselves with their washed out sequences, out of focus scenes, burnt-in spots and missing film reels where the sex scenes would’ve been. This was the grindhouse experience and with the rise of Hollywood as a corporate entity even moreso than it’s been in the past and urban renewal projects by big city leaders, the grindhouse experience has pretty much faded away and kept alive only in the memories of its fans worldwide.

What Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino have cranked out with their three-hour long opus to those grindhouse days has been both a literal and thematic homage to an era long since gone. Grindhouse also has allowed Rodriguez and Tarantino to pull out all the stops in filming their respective halves of the film. Rodriguez went all-out in paying literal homage to the zombie gore-fests of George A. Romero, Lucio Fulci and Umberto Lenzi. Planet Terror plays like a hodgepodge of all the zombie movies from these masters of the walking dead but Rodriguez has the use of digital effects to match the over-the-top feel of the past zombie-fests without making the effects look too cheap.

The story for Planet Terror is quite simple yet full of so many incoherent subplots that trying to keep track with whats going on would just confuse a viewer even more. Rodriguez gets the grindhouse feel with such a ludicrous storyline. Whether it was done on purpose or not, the feeling of confusion in addition to the non-stop zombie action was only compounded even more by the digitally-added film stock scratches, burns to the edges of the reel and when the movie was about to get all hot and sexy, missing reel footage. Anyone who watched movies in grindhouse theaters would recognize the look quite well. Rodriguez goes all out in letting his zombie fanboy out. The violence in Planet Terror begins strong and just gets stronger and even more over-the-top right up to the final frame. Zombie’s getting their heads blown apart is shown in scratchy, loving detail with an impossible amount of blood, bone and brain for people to gawk at. The female characters are hot and sexy. Rose McGowan as Cherry Darling holds Planet Terror together with her spunky go-go dancer dreaming to be a stand-up comedienne turning into Ellen Ripley minus a leg but gaining an M16A3 w/ M203 grenade launcher as a leg prosthetic. Freddy Rodriguez as El Wray, her wayward and mysterious lover, almost seem to be channeling a hilariously bad version of Snake Plissken. These two make for quite the explosive couple as they must try and save their small Texas town from the infected townspeople turned pus-oozing, boil-ridden zombies.

Planet Terror sports a nice collection of current B-list actors like Josh Brolin (making like a Nick Nolte at his growliest) and Marley Shelton as a pair of married doctors with marital problems compounded by the increasing amount of zombies their hospital seem to be bringing in for medical help. There’s also genre veterans Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey and Tom Savini to give Planet Terror the appropriate grindhouse look and feel to it. Ever the good friend and buddy collaborator, Rodriguez even gives Quentin Tarantino a role in his half of the film. He’s shown in the credits for Planet Terror as The Rapist. If any director seem destined to be one, if their love for movies didn’t steer them on the right path, Tarantino seem to look just like one to be called “Tha Rapist”.

There’s explosion and gore galore in Rodriguez’s ode to the zombie genre. Some who sees it might say there’s too much and they would be right if the title of the whole film wasn’t Grindhouse. I, for one, am glad Rodriguez decided to not hold back with what he threw onto the screen. I’m sure that when the dvd finally comes out and the unedited full version of Planet Terror is shown it’ll even surpass the 85-minute running time in the film. I think I can forgive Rodriguez for his gore excess and at times I actually wished for more, but then that would mean taking even more time before I get to Tarantino’s half of the movie. Planet Terror truly got the look of a grindhouse flick, but it’s Tarantino’s Death Proof half which got the spirit of grindhouse down to near-perfect.

Before Tarantino’s Death Proof half of Grindhouse begins the audience gets treated to a sort of intermission involving three fake trailers for movies which celebrate just how ridiculously fun grindhouse movies really were during the 70’s and 80’s. There’s Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS which was this weird mish-mash of the women-in-prison flicks with that of the infamous Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS films that brought about the exploitation in grindhouse. This trailer was great just for the inspired casting of Nicolas Cage as Fu Manchu and Sybil Danning as one of the so-called SS women werewolves. There’s also Edgar Wright’s fake trailer for Don’t (director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) which parodies the trailers for all the gothic, European haunted and horror movies where none of the actors in the trailer speak a word to make sure the film doesn’t get labeled as a “foreign film”. But it’s the third trailer in that intermission trio which had everyone in the audience reacting wildly.

Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving is a throwback to the seasonal-themed slasher flicks like Black Christmas but this time turns the yearly, turkey day and Pilgrim celebration into a trailer with some of the most disturbingly inventive scenes for a fake slasher movie. I don’t know what the Pilgrim serial killer was doing with that turkey at the end of the trailer but I’m sure it will have many people talking about it afterwards. It’s this Eli Roth trailer which fully captures the gritty and gratuitious nature of what makes a grindhouse horror movie. It’s also the one fake trailer I hope Roth would re-visit and turn into a full-length movie.

Now, with the trailers out of the way, Tarantino’s half of Grindhouse begins and we’re treated to a different take on the grindhouse experience. Death Proof begins as if it will continue Rodriguez’s literal examination and homage to the grindhouse experience, but after messing with the film’s focus, adding a few film scratches to the celluloid and even adding a missing reel gag, Tarantino suddenly slows all those grindhouse trickeries and actually ends up making a rip-roaring slasher-revenge-carchase flick. Tarantino takes one part slasher movie adds in a heavy dose of his own Reservoir Dogs (the talking between the female characters in Death Proof are as foul-mouthed and trivial as the diner scene in Reservoir Dogs) then mixes in equal amounts of Vanishing Point, Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and I Spit On Your Grave. Instead of just mimicking these particular grindhouse classics, Tarantino uses his own flair for extended dialogue to slow down the pace of the film thus lulling the audience for the two pay-offs which happen in the middle and the end of Death Proof. Tarantino’s half of Grindhouse could’ve went nowhere with all its estrogen-laced talkies, but Kurt “I AM SNAKE PLISSKEN” Russell really saves the day once he makes his appearance as the automotive-themed serial killer, Stuntman Mike. Where Jason uses farming and bladed implements as his tool of the serial killing trade, Stuntman Mike uses both a 1971 Chevy Nova SS and a 1970 Dodge Charger R/T 440 as his weapons of choice. Both vehicles have been made death proof for filming violent car stunt sequences, but in order to appreciate it’s unique life-saving properties then one has to sit where Mike sits.

Kurt Russell can now add Stuntman Mike to his classic list of badass roles. Mike would feel quite welcome amongst the like of Snake Plissken, John J. MacReady, and Jack Burton to name a few of Russell’s classic characters. Mike comes across as cooly and slickly dangerous, yet not psychotic. His charm is quite disarming until it turns deadly. He really takes the slasher-character stereotype and turns it on its ear. Death Proof once again shows that when Tarantino gets to work with one of his boyhood idols he really gives them a role that they could sink their teeth into.

Death Proof captures the spirit of what makes a grindhouse exploitation film. Even with the heavy references to Vanishing Point, especially with a white 70’s Dodge Challenger used just like in that movie, Tarantino still injects his own brand of craziness to the whole movie. I know many who have complained that Death Proof was too much talk with only the car chase in the end being the saving grace. I politely disagree and say that it’s that very long periods of dialogue between the women in Death Proof that brings some of the spirit of grindhouse to the story. Many forget or don’t remember that most grindhouse cheapies had so much extraneous dialogue to hide the fact that the budget was low to none when the movies were being made so they had to fill-up the movie’s running time with as much nonsensical dialogue before the big effect shots payoff.

The final chase-scene between the Russell’s Stuntman Mike and the female-trio of Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms (channeling Jules from Pulp Fiction) and real-life stuntwoman Zoe Bell (she doubled as Uma Thurman in the more dangerous stunts in Kill Bill) has to go down as one of the craziest, whiteknuckling, barnburning car chase sequences of the modern times. No CGI-effects trickery and fancy MTV-style editing was used. George Miller, John Frankenheimer and Richard Sarafian would be proud of what Tarantino was able to accomplish with Death Proof‘s 20-minute long car chase. By the time Death Proof ends the audience have bee put through the wringer and one was hard-pressed not to cheer and root for Stuntman Mike even though we know we shouldn’t. Death Proof proves that “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” or at least a trio of women endangered.

Grindhouse is a film not for everyone. There’s going to be quite a few people who won’t “get” the film homages and references by both Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Some would say that the movie was too over-the-top, badly made and just out there, but then they would be missing the point of the whole project altogether. For those who grew up watching these kind of films as kids and teenagers, it’s a belated Valentine’s gift from two fanboy filmmakers who finally were able to do the films they grew up idolizing and enjoying. For the rest who are not as well-versed in the grindhouse cinema, this is a good enough starter before they move on to try the classic ones which are now on video (I would suggest they find a worn-out VHS copy of it instead of the cleaned up DVD version). The film is over three-hours long, but one who goes in really can’t say that they didn’t get their money’s worth when they went in to watch Grindhouse.